After a major increase in in-flight sexual assaults over the past four years, the U.S. Department of Transportation has taken a first step towards addressing the problem, announcing a task force to investigate the issue.
DOT secretary Elaine Chao has assembled a 14-member National In-Flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force to “review and evaluate current practices, protocols, and requirements of U.S. airlines in responding to and reporting allegations by passengers of sexual misconduct on board commercial aircraft,” she said in a statement this month. The task force will also provide recommendations on training, reporting, and data collection surrounding sexual misconduct on aircraft.
Advocates have been lobbying for such a group as in-flight assaults have increased at “an alarming rate,” according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. In-flight sexual assault complaints increased from 38 in 2014 to 63 in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Justice data. Victims often say airlines fail to properly investigate the cases, and often don’t communicate with law enforcement fast enough to apprehend suspects.
In an October incident on a Frontier Airlines flight, 49-year-old combat veteran Lena Ramsay said a sexual assault she reported to the flight attendant went unaddressed during and after the flight. Ramsay was “shocked and outraged” to find out how difficult the reporting process was. Her attacker remains at large. (Frontier did not respond to request for comment but previously confirmed the incident is under investigation).
Although passenger rights advocates have been pressuring the DOT and FBI to take more action against in-flight assaults, many criticized the task force for being comprised largely of industry members. The task force includes representatives from Delta Air Lines
a flight attendant union, the trade group Airlines for America, and the FBI.
“No in-flight sexual assault victims or advocates [were] appointed to the 14-member DOT Inflight Sexual Assault Task Force by Secretary Chao,” said Paul Hudson, president of flyers rights group FlyersRights.org. “The parties responsible for the current deplorable situation will be in charge of fixing it.” The group includes a representative from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), which provides services to sexual assault victims, and an official from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
A Department of Transportation spokesman told MarketWatch that — although there are no victims on the board — the task force will hear and review first-hand accounts from passengers who have experienced sexual misconduct onboard commercial aircraft.
The operation of the Task Force will be discussed at the first meeting of the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (ACPAC) in 2019. It was initially to be held on Jan. 16, 2019, but was rescheduled due to the government shutdown. The meeting will be live-streamed online.
Get a daily roundup of the top reads in personal finance delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Personal Finance Daily newsletter. Sign up here.